Taking the Lead on Adolescent Literacy: Action Steps for Schoolwide Success


Judith Irvin, Julie Meltzer, Nancy Dean & Martha Jan Mickler

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: The Model, Process, and Rubrics

    Part II: Schoolwide Change in Five Stages

    Part III: School and District Administrators as Literacy Leaders

  • Praise for Taking the Lead on Adolescent Literacy

    “The Literacy Project is a systemic process that guarantees all students access to superior instructional strategies.”

    —Kathleen P. Norton

    Principal, Arvada High School

    Jefferson County, CO

    “Following the process outlined in this book allowed our literacy team to personalize the project to our school and needs. Our team presented our project to our staff in August and our teachers have implemented it faithfully. Our students know the slogan and are excited about the project. The literacy team has kept the excitement high for the year.

    This literacy project changed the culture and focus of our school in less than a year. ”

    —Trip Sargent, Principal

    North Arvada Middle School

    Jefferson County, CO

    “I have seen numerous educational initiatives come and go in my forty some years working with schools, but nothing has been as important, relevant, or long lasting as adolescent literacy. Schools, with principals and teachers who have stayed the course with embedded literacy strategies across the curriculum, with a focus on literacy rich culture and structures in their buildings, with students using literacy strategies on their own, and with staff and students reading and sharing, are the schools that have made significant gains in their educational achievement.”

    —Betty A. Jordan, Director

    Washington County Consortium

    Machias, ME

    “Judith Irvin and her team have created a valuable resource and guidebook for school districts serious about improving the literacy achievement of their students. This volume expands and deepens the other contributions they have provided, especially Taking Action on Literacy Leadership. As a professional literacy educator actively involved in partnerships with schools and districts working to improve literacy, I read each chapter from a very concrete perspective: how did these suggestions and the lists of concerns and issues reflect my experiences and were the suggestions and model for change ones I could embrace? In each chapter I found honest descriptions of the tough issues faced by schools trying to focus on literacy across the content areas. More important, the chapters are full of guidelines and practical suggestions for dealing with the challenges. The implementation maps and the rubrics that help school literacy teams diagnose, establish goals, monitor implementation, and sustain the changes they want are particularly valuable resources. This team knows that change requires a systems approach with all levels of school and community involved over an extended time frame. I heartily recommend this as a very useful tool for schools wanting to implement a schoolwide commitment to literacy.”

    —Donna Ogle, National-Louis University

    Chicago, IL

    “Wow! This book gives school and district leaders and teams the what, why, and how to do the rocket science work of getting every student to read and write at grade level or above. Principals and literacy teams no longer need to be stuck in the ‘We don't know what to do next’ world of frustration.”

    —Bess Scott, Director of Elementary Education

    Lincoln Public Schools, NE

    “The connections regarding best practice research from multiple fields—differentiation, professional development, curriculum mapping, 21st-century literacy, assessment, and instructional strategies—are critical and very well done. These connections are made in a professional, understandable way with theories and classroom applications articulated across grade levels and in many formats: scoring guides, prose, questions, vignettes, case studies, and graphics.”

    —Darlene Castelli, Literacy Coach/Reading Specialist

    Clayton High School, MO

    “The most beneficial aspect of the literacy action planning process was providing training and asking for input from teachers from the very beginning. Literacy Support Team Members were able to reflect on the unique and specific strengths and needs of their buildings and utilize this information to develop a practical implementation plan. The time spent working together on the Literacy Action Plan helped to build community and foster a sense of ownership in the change process. Rather than being “acted upon” with a top-down initiative, staff members were an integral part of enacting change within their own learning environments and for their own students. This was very powerful and a primary reason that all four secondary schools were able to launch the initiative so successfully.”

    —Lisa White, District ELA Coordinator

    Plymouth Public Schools

    Plymouth, MA

    “This rich resource walks middle and high school literacy leaders through a comprehensive process for conceptualizing, initiating, and, most important, sustaining a schoolwide literacy learning program. The authors clearly know teachers and schools, and their reality-tested tools will prove invaluable in guiding and supporting middle and high school literacy leaders.”

    —Doug Buehl, Author, Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning

    “Most school administrators know in concept that they need to have a Literacy Leadership Team, but what exactly would such a team do? Plan a book fair or a parent spaghetti night? Organize a contest for the most books read? Publish a ‘word of the day?’ These may all be worthy activities, but are these things that will help our students become stronger in their ability to access content knowledge through text? As educators living in this world of high-stakes accountability, we need a way to focus our activities to be sure that our hard work is well spent. The literacy action planning process developed by Dr. Judith Irvin and her colleagues has helped several schools in our district realistically assess their strengths and opportunities for improvement and develop concrete action plans for schoolwide literacy improvement.”

    —Connie Kolosey, Supervisor of Secondary Reading

    Pinellas County, FL

    “The Five-Stage Literacy Leadership Process in the book provided my principals and teachers with an easy-to-follow, research-based guide to develop a successful Literacy Program within their school.”

    —Jerryelyn L. Jones, Chief Area Officer, Area 24

    Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, IL


    View Copyright Page


    The publication of Taking the Lead on Adolescent Literacy marks an exciting moment for schools, students, and educational leaders across the country. It reflects a change in our understanding of literacy, and makes available the results of years of work to understand and bring attention to the needs of upper elementary, middle, and high school students. These adolescent learners have been overlooked far too long in the necessary, yet incomplete, efforts to improve schools and student learning.

    When Carnegie Corporation's Advancing Literacy initiative was launched in 2003 the educational community and the country at large had awakened anew to the underlying crisis of literacy achievement in our schools. In 2001, The National Academy of Science release, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, along with the Report of the National Reading Panel, shaped the design of early-elementary literacy initiatives made possible by Title I funds, especially Reading First and Early Reading First. Additional funds provided much-needed resources for research in the area of early reading. While there were certainly controversies about the implementation of the government programs, the investment in reading was welcomed by many.

    At the same time, educators' interest in the less-explored issue of adolescent literacy was on the rise. Two important publications helped catalyze this attention. The International Reading Association's excellent paper, Adolescent Literacy: A Position Statement, raised awareness and provided a primer for understanding adolescents' struggle with reading. The RAND Reading Study Group's report, Reading for Understanding, underscored the literacy skills needed for comprehension of complex text. These reports were released just as philanthropic dollars were being heavily invested in high school reform and at the same time that the Foundations realized that incoming ninth graders—as many as 70 percent according to the Nation's Report Card—were significantly behind in reading skills.

    Carnegie Corporation of New York seized the moment, building upon its legacy of improving and expanding educational attainment with the launch of the Advancing Literacy Initiative. The goal was to ensure that middle and high school students received the attention they deserved and to address what the Corporation's president, Vartan Gregorian, had identified as a:

    challenging disconnect in our educational system, namely, that what is expected in academic achievement for middle and high school students has significantly increased, [yet] the way in which students are taught to read, comprehend, and write about subject matter has not kept pace with the demands of schooling (Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, 2010, p viii.)

    As the program officer leading this work, it became clear to me that not only was it essential to develop knowledge and practices around adolescent literacy, it was also essential to address the twin needs of developing public support and finding ways to engineer schools so that adolescent literacy would be a priority. We saw early on that leadership would be a key component in bringing critical mass and sustainability to adolescent literacy improvements over time. In fact, in the first report of the Advancing Literacy Program, Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004) “leadership” was one of the 15 critical elements included.

    To bring the work of adolescent literacy to scale, to make strides in increased academic achievement, high school graduation rates, and college attainment, we need to engage school leaders—especially principals—in this Herculean effort. But how? How do school leaders strategically plan for schoolwide change? How do school literacy leaders create a vision for literacy-rich schools? How can the use of data establish a foundation for focusing on literacy?

    Taking the Lead on Adolescent Literacy: Action Steps for Schoolwide Success effectively tackles and answers these compelling questions. This thorough and practical guide is designed to help school and district leaders create and execute a successful plan for adolescent literacy. Judith Irvin and her colleagues present the knowledge, expertise, and mix of strategies needed for school and district leaders to develop a comprehensive plan, support teachers to improve instruction, use data, build leadership capacity, and allocate resources. These basic principles will put schools on track to an improved, sustained culture of literacy and student performance.

    Now is exactly the right time for Taking the Lead on Adolescent Literacy: the data are available, the need is understood, and effective practices have been identified. The wealth of knowledge in this book paves the way for educational leaders to transform the educational outcomes and lives of their adolescent students.

    This book will give you confidence, direction, and the necessary tools to enhance your own leadership, decision-making, and vision for your school. Good luck!

    —AndrésHenríquez, Program Officer, National Program, Carnegie Corporation of New York


    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Molly Burger, Principal

    Middleton Middle School

    Middleton, ID

    Darlene Castelli, Literacy Coach/Reading Specialist

    Clayton High School

    Clayton, MO

    Joan Eggert, Reading Specialist, Grades 5–8

    Indian Mound Middle School

    McFarland, WI

    Bess Scott, Director of Elementary Education

    Lincoln Public Schools

    Lincoln, NE

    Bill Sommers, High School Principal

    Chaska Public School

    Austin, TX

    About the Authors

    Judith Irvin, PhD, is a professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, and the executive director of the National Literacy Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving middle and high school literacy. Her repertoire includes chairing the research committee for the National Middle School Association for six years and serving on the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association. She has written and edited numerous books, chapters, and articles on adolescent literacy—most notably Reading and the High School Student: Strategies to Enhance Literacy (with Douglas Buehl and Ronald Klemp, 2007), Strategies for Enhancing Literacy and Learning in Middle School Content Area Classrooms (with Douglas Buehl and Barbara Radcliffe, 2007) and Teaching Middle School Reading (with James Rycik, 2005).

    Judith recently completed two books as a result of a project funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York: Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy: An Implementation Guide for School Leaders (with Julie Meltzer and Melinda Dukes, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2007) and Meeting the Challenge of Adolescent Literacy: Practical Ideas for Literacy Leaders (with Julie Meltzer, Martha Jan Mickler, Melvina Phillips, and Nancy Dean, 2009). She is a speaker and consultant to school systems and professional organizations throughout the nation. Judith spent eight years as a middle and high school social studies and reading teacher.

    Julie Meltzer, PhD, is Senior Advisor for Research, Strategy, and Design at Public Consulting Group's Center for Resource Management (PCG-CRM) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She is responsible for the design of consulting services related to 21st Century Teaching and Learning, Response to Intervention (RtI), and Literacy and Learning. As director of the Adolescent Literacy Project at the LAB at Brown University, she developed the Adolescent Literacy Support Framework showcased on the Knowledge Loom Web site and was on the development team for the Council of Chief State School Officers' (CCSSO) Adolescent Literacy Toolkit. A sought-after keynote speaker, author, reviewer, conference presenter, and workshop leader, she seeks to empower educators to apply promising research-based practices to support the literacy development and learning needs of students. Julie is a coauthor of Meeting the Challenge of Adolescent Literacy: Practical Ideas for Literacy Leaders (with Judith Irvin, Martha Jan Mickler, Melvina Phillips, and Nancy Dean, 2009), and Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy: An Implementation Guide for School Leaders (with Judith Irvin and Melinda Dukes, 2007). She is also the author of Adolescent Literacy Resources: Linking Research and Practice (2002), and articles that have appeared in Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan, Principal Leadership, In Perspective, and other educational publications. She brings substantive experience as a teacher, teacher educator, and leadership coach to her work in the areas of systemic school improvement, capacity building, and design of professional development services and materials. Julie and her colleagues work with schools and districts throughout the country.

    Nancy Dean, EdS, is Professor Emerita at the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. During her 39 years in education, she has taught middle and high school English, special education, reading, debate, social studies, English for speakers of other languages, and Advanced Placement English. She is also an experienced literacy coach and curriculum specialist.

    Committed to school literacy reform and meaningful professional development, she has worked extensively with teachers and school leaders in urban and rural schools throughout the United States. She is an associate director of the National Literacy Project and a lead presenter for that organization. In addition, she is a national consultant in secondary literacy and literacy leadership and director of Leadership Through Reading, a cross-age tutoring program.

    Nancy is the author of Voice Lessons: Classroom Activities to Teach Diction, Detail, Imagery, Syntax, and Tone (2000); Discovering Voice: Voice Lessons for Middle and High School (2006); and the Writing Intervention Kit for High School (2008). She is also coauthor (with Candace Harper) of Succeeding in Reading: A Complete Cross-Age Tutoring Program (2006), and Meeting the Challenge in Adolescent Literacy: Practical Ideas for Literacy Leaders (with Judith Irvin, Julie Meltzer, Martha Jan Mickler, and Melvina Phillips, 2009).

    Martha Jan Mickler, PhD, is currently a private consultant specializing in adolescent literacy. She works with administrators and teachers in classroom and seminar settings with the focus on developing literacy leadership and helping teachers integrate literacy within academic and fine arts content areas. She has held a variety of leadership positions in education, including Supervisor of Secondary Reading (Pinellas County, Florida); Principal, Fairyland Elementary School (Walker County, Georgia); Supervisor of English and World Languages and Director of Teaching and Learning (Chattanooga Public Schools, Tennessee); and Director of Music Therapy (New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute, Princeton, New Jersey). She was also a resource teacher at Fairyland School and a piano instructor and performing artist for Cadek Conservatory (Chattanooga, Tennessee).

    Martha Jan has been active in many professional organizations, including the National Council of Teachers, serving as President of the Tennessee Council of Teachers from 1997 to 1999. She serves on the Editorial Review Board for the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy and has coauthored a book on literacy leadership: Meeting the Challenge of Adolescent Literacy: Practical Ideas for School Leaders (with Judith Irvin, Julie Meltzer, Melvina Phillips, and Nancy Dean, 2009). Her published articles have appeared in many periodicals, including the Journal of Special Education, Classroom Leadership, Spelling Progress Quarterly, and Computers, Reading, and Language Arts.


    The hard work and dedication of many teacher leaders and literacy teams throughout the country were indispensable in the conceptualization and actualization of this book. Their voices, struggles, and triumphs echo through every chapter.

    This book is more than a “thank you.” It is recognition of the power of education to change lives. It is to these hard-working and passionate administrators and teachers that this book is dedicated.

    JudithIrvin, JulieMeltzer, NancyDean, Martha JanMickler
  • Resource A: School Vignettes

    Elementary School Vignette

    You arrive at Ridgewood Elementary at the appointed time and enter a friendly foyer with plants and lots of children's artwork on display. On an easel is a “Poem of the Day.” Three students, obviously in different grade levels, stand reading the poem by Jack Prelutsky. As they go off down the hall you hear, “That's pretty good—I like that one!”

    You arrive in the office and are quickly met by the principal, who bubbles with enthusiasm about the school's welcoming and culture of acceptance for each child (and their families) who attends the school. As you travel through the fourth-grade wing, you expect to notice the infamous “fourth-grade slump.” Instead (to your pleasant surprise), you notice that students appear not to be slumped about learning and literacy at all. You see students in small groups reading a variety of leveled texts and using reciprocal teaching to make sure that everyone understands the major concepts of the topic. In one classroom, you notice that students are reading aloud in pairs and then summarizing for one another before reading on. You see teachers walking around, listening, questioning, and taking notes. “All of our teachers use a paired reading strategy,” the principal says. “It is great for improving fluency, comprehension, and summarizing. It has really gotten some of our struggling readers up to speed.”

    In other classrooms, you observe guided reading groups, independent reading, small group, and partner work. Each classroom has a library, and there are lists of books read by students and their ratings of the books against various criteria: interesting, well written, good ending, and so on. In one classroom, the teacher is using the projection unit to model and explain how the students are going to do the summaries and the translation of their science fiction or fantasy books into picture books for younger students. In another, the teacher has a piece of writing up on the document projector, and she is marking it up with a pen as students point out descriptive phrases.

    The library is a bright and airy space with books, magazines, and other print materials attractively displayed, and colorful posters describing the importance of reading, writing, and thinking. Sets of computers are on tables in one-half of the room. The librarian is using a projection unit to model how to tell whether a Web site is a good source for information, and a class of fifth graders is checking the Web site they chose for their research to see if they have been “duped” by false information. A steady flow of students come in and out to check out books and work on projects. Some giggling and talking can be heard but no real “fooling around.” Parent volunteers circulate to help students find what they need.

    Evidence of literacy and technology is everywhere. Students in the art classroom are using a graphics design program to develop logos, while others in the computer classroom are using Kidspiration to map out their science fiction stories, In the math lab, fourth graders are using Lego Logo to create short computer animations. All struggling students have access to computers using leveled programs to improve fluency, comprehension, and writing skills.

    In the hallway you see I-Search projects on a variety of topics, autobiographies with self-portraits, and persuasive essays for and against instituting daylight savings time earlier in the year. You are impressed with the level of the writing and mention that to the principal. He shakes his head, “We've come a long way. We're not there yet, but the kids are the ones that drive it. The scores are slowly going up. We have worked hard as a staff to learn how to teach them better, and it is really paying off.” You thank the principal for the tour and leave the building. Images of students reading, writing, and thinking stick in your mind for days.

    Middle School Vignette

    Enter Hope Middle School and you immediately notice the mission of the school prominently displayed: Every Student: Read to Succeed. Two students show up in the entry to greet you and introduce themselves as Cassie and Brett. They inform you that they are both seventh graders and will serve as your tour guides. They first lead you to the media center, and you notice that the room is full of students reading, researching, using the computers, and working together on projects. At the computer stations, the media and technology specialists, along with a seventh-grade social studies teacher, are helping students at computers use digital resources to plan for an upcoming debate on the issue of global warming. You immediately notice that all students are working collaboratively to search specific Internet sites for information to use in the debate. Cassie tells you that students throughout the school are honing their digital literacy skills, both in the media center and in their classrooms. “Lots of kids today are pretty savvy with the computer and Internet and have lots of opportunity to use their skills in their assignments and classroom activities,” she says. Brett then remarks that one of the most popular activities is called Controversy Circles, in which students and community visitors read the same article and do a discussion web about the important issues. Brett explains, “Sometimes the visitors are people who work in the school or people from different businesses. And the topics are sometimes really interesting, like about gun control and medical ethics and dilemmas, like if it is good to have economic development if it causes pollution and stuff like that.”

    Leaving the media center, you and your tour guides visit the sixth-grade wing and walk into a science class. Students are working in pairs doing research on chemical solutions and planning demonstrations that illustrate key concepts related to salinity and saturation. In the science classroom next door, students are reading intently on computers and coding the articles they are reading using digital highlighting. The teacher explains they are reading about chemical reactions to determine if the information confirms or contradicts the experiment they just did. In a third science classroom, students are working in small groups to create chapters for a lab manual. In one sixth-grade English/language arts classroom, students are doing a nonfiction study, and everyone in the room is reading, writing, or conferencing with a peer or with the teacher. In another, some students are creating reader's theatre scripts based on various science fiction books found in the classroom library, while others are working in literature circles on a set of texts based on a theme from their social studies classes.

    You then visit several more subject-area classrooms. In Ms. Jackson's math class, you notice that students are using a graphic organizer to solve word problems. Students of Mr. Jefferson are engaged in a paired reading of the chapter in the textbook, questioning, summarizing, and clarifying as needed. In social studies classes, students are writing A Day in the Life papers for Greek or Roman times, preparing for talk show interviews of famous Greeks and Romans, and completing compare and contrast charts around cultural aspects of today's Greece versus ancient Greece.

    As you wander to the eighth-grade wing, you are impressed with the abundance of literacy projects on the walls of the hallways. Student work is prominently displayed on every available wall space. You notice that eighth-grade students are as actively involved as their younger peers. Some students are reading and classifying letters from soldiers from different eras. Others are working on an interdisciplinary unit on roller coaster design and using reciprocal teaching to understand a variety of texts on the topic. Still others are designing their own poetry anthologies, analyzing the pond water they collected then entering the data into a database that an environmental agency has created, and deciding how to write up the experiments they just completed.

    As you head back to the office, you pass the family resource room in which a class is being held on strategies for passing the General Education Development (GED) test. Further down the hall is a conference room where a group of teachers is having an intense discussion about student performance data and how they will use specific literacy support strategies to address students' needs. Cassie explains that one of the teachers is the literacy coach who helps teachers teach better.

    Once back at the office, you thank Cassie and Brett for their time and insights. The principal joins you in his office after his schedule of classroom walk-throughs and asks for your impressions. You point out that in every class you noticed that teachers were modeling or teaching literacy-support strategies and that students were practicing them both individually or in small groups. What astounded you was the high level of student engagement, collaboration, critical thinking, and discussion as well as the amount of reading and writing you saw. You mention that in many schools you don't think you would have seen this much reading, writing, presentation, and discussion in a week, much less a day!The principal smiles and says that three years ago, you wouldn't have seen this much at Hope Middle School either. “At first, both teachers and students resisted. Students were asked to work harder, and teachers had to learn how to integrate literacy into their subject areas. I arranged for the literacy coach to attend each team meeting once a month for several months, and once they got to know what she had to offer, the teachers realized she was a real resource to them. They also learned that I was serious about this literacy effort as well. Each teacher has an Individual Professional Development Plan, and I make sure it contains work on literacy improvement. Now, literacy is the way we do business. Everyone contributes to a culture of literacy throughout our school. It took clear expectations, lots of professional development and coaching, and strong leadership, but I think we are getting there. Our achievement scores are slowly improving, and everyone has really taken it on as a collective responsibility.” Reflecting on what you have observed at Hope Middle School, you can't help but agree.

    High School Vignette

    As you enter the front corridor of Lakeview High School, you immediately notice that literacy is featured throughout the school. Watching the morning announcements on the television just outside the family welcome center, you learn that the speech and drama clubs are meeting during fifth period and that the literary magazine and newspaper editors are presenting their ideas to the English faculty meeting during lunch. You see student art work and science projects prominently displayed in the area as well. You also notice that all of the signs are in English and Spanish since more than 40% of Lakeview students speak Spanish at home.

    You are greeted by LaTasha and Alberto, your student guides, who represent a group of students who have made rapid gains in their grades during the semester and have been chosen to be tour guides for visitors. Your first stop is the history wing where you find students who are reading, writing, and discussing as they work on the computer alone or in pairs. One student explains, “We are working on our research project on the economic costs of malnutrition, and we have to come up with solutions that are economically sound. We have a lot of content to cover, so we are doing a jigsaw to distribute the work load.” Other students are comparing their answers on last night's anticipation guide with the information from a Renaissance text.

    You move on to the English wing where you find an equally diverse array of activities. Some students are working in small groups on a Romeo and Juliet Webquest requiring them to rewrite a scene in contemporary language and specific style. Others are doing reciprocal teaching with a section of The Grapes of Wrath. In another room, students are doing “book commercials” that students rate using a rubric. Samples of student writing are posted everywhere.

    You wonder if math teachers are also providing students with inventive ways to integrate literacy in their subject area learning, and you are pleasantly surprised when you visit math classrooms. In one geometry class, students are reading and discussing a section of Flatland. In the Algebra I class, students are reading and coding the text in pairs; in another, they are working together to develop problems to be included on the test. Word walls are in every classroom; triple entry vocabulary journals are evident on many students' desks.

    In the science wing, embedded literacy learning is evident. In one class, the small engine repair teacher and the physics teacher are co-teaching to help students build real-word connections between theory and application. In another, students are conducting research using stream pollution data collected in a near by stream. Students are working in groups to create summaries of articles related to aspects of habitat and biodiversity; working in pairs to fill out a semantic feature analysis on characteristics of diseases; working on their own to write persuasive essays about the pros and cons of genetically altered foods. Words, books, and discussions are everywhere. The voices are those of the students, not the teacher, and just about everyone seems to be on task.

    LaTasha and Alberto point out several classes where one of the English language learner teachers coteaches with a content area teacher. You remember that you noticed that almost half of the classes you observed had two teachers.

    LaTasha explains, “A lot of our special education teachers and literacy coaches coteach classes with subject area teachers so that all students can be successful learners.” Alberto pipes up, “Yeah, students say they love classes with more than one teacher because there is more than just one person to go to for help; it mixes it up a little and makes it more interesting.”

    The emphasis on vocabulary, reading, and writing is apparent as you tour the unified arts and vocational classes. Students are reading and discussing articles, creating repair manuals, writing art critiques, completing nutrition logs, and writing work sample reports, much of which goes into a portfolio that is showcased at the end of the year in juried presentations.

    Before returning to the principal's office, you visit the media and technology center that is organized around a flexible scheduling model. The media and technology specialists are available to all teachers for planning and integration of technology and multiliteracies. In one corner, you notice that a student is videoconferencing with his elementary reading buddy in the school down the street. Together they are reading and discussing Frog and Toad. Your guides explain that some kind of literacy community service is expected of all students throughout their four years at Lakeview High. Students can choose to read the newspaper to blind people, create books on tape for the elementary school students, tutor in the afterschool program, work on the school newspaper or literary magazine; translate and record school newsletters for parents who do not speak English or who do not read, and write letters for nursing home residents.

    As you meet with the principal for debriefing, you learn what has transpired in the last few years that lead up to the high degree of literacy focus at Lakeview High. The principal says, “My main job has been to be out there leading the charge. Of course, I was lucky that I have two good literacy coaches and that my district and community members were supportive of the changes we wanted to make. We did a lot of discussion and visioning; we had a number of book discussion groups; we made a literacy plan that we monitor and revise; we did a lot of teacher professional development. We worked it out with the district so that teachers could get inservice points toward recertification. We had to get the intervention piece right too. That took a lot of finagling with the master calendar to free up time for students as well as for teacher collaboration and planning. At first, we merely offered a reading course for students scoring below level. We realized that the one course was not enough. We began our summer reading camp three years ago. That did a lot to provide additional support for students who scored in the lowest levels.”

    All in all, you conclude that Lakeview High School teachers, staff, and administrators have worked hard to build a culture of literacy for all of their students. Now you wonder how their success can be replicated at other schools.

    Resource B: Tools to Use When Implementing the Five-Stage Process

    List of Tools
    • Tool 1: Student Performance Data Assessment Grid
    • Tool 2: Implementation Map Template
    • Tool 3: Potential Activities for Faculty Kickoff
    • Tool 4: Involving Students in the Literacy Initiative
    • Tool 5: Implementation Monitoring Template
    • Tool 6: Support Teachers Checklist
    • Tool 7: Use Data Checklist
    • Tool 8: Build Capacity Checklist
    • Tool 9: Allocate Resources Checklist
    • Tool 10: Progress Toward Goals Summary Chart
    • Tool 11: Implementation Review Chart
    • Tool 12: Literacy Leadership Team Assessment
    • Tool 13: Then, Now, Next Chart
    • Tool 14: Proactive Steps for Sustaining a Literacy Improvement Effort
    • Tool 15: Types and Uses of Data
    • Tool 16: Professional Development Needs Assessment
    • Tool 17: Roles of Support Personnel
    • Tool 18: Data Questions and Decisions

    Resource C: Examples of Each Rubric Component in Action

    These examples are intended to give you an idea of how each component of the six rubrics is implemented at an exemplary (or Level 4) level. (Remember that some components are intentionally repeated across the rubrics.) If you are not familiar with each strategy or practice mentioned in the examples, there is no need to spend time researching; you can still get the gist of the example. Remember that these practices are examples only and are not meant to be prescriptive. As you go through each rubric, you should read the example appropriate for your level and then assess your school's implementation of the component.

    Literacy Action Rubric 1: Student Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement

    Literacy Action Rubric 2: Literacy across the Content Areas

    Literacy Action Rubric 3: Literacy Interventions

    Literacy Action Rubric 4: Literacy-Rich School Environment, Policies, and Culture

    Literacy Action Rubric 5: Parent and Community Involvement

    Literacy Action Rubric 6: District Support of School-Based Literacy Improvement Efforts

    Resource D: Riverton High School Case Study1

    Riverton High School's Literacy Improvement Effort

    Similar to other high schools in the district, Riverton serves a large, diverse population of Hispanic, African American, Asian, and white students. Of these, almost 90% of the students are low income and 9% of students are English language learners. From the beginning, Ms. Russell saw the district's literacy initiative as an opportunity for something meaningful to teachers and students and not just a “one-shot thing.” She sought to make “the district literacy initiative our own.” For Ms. Russell and the literacy team, the successful whole-school focus on literacy has rested on several different but related steps. To begin with, it was imperative that teachers be involved in the design and implementation of the model. In the five years of the initiative, the reading task force at Riverton grew to include fourteen teachers. Of these, two teachers had participated for the full five years. At the end of the five years, 20% of the faculty had participated for at least one year on the literacy team. To support teachers in their work, the school administrators were educated about literacy in the different content areas so that they could work along with teachers in integrating literacy throughout the curriculum.

    As a school with a history of well-respected magnet programs, Ms. Russell and the literacy team sought to preserve the integrity of programs and subject matter identities while integrating the focus on literacy. They viewed both as crucial to motivating teachers and students. They did not see the literacy initiative as superseding or replacing the existing curriculum but rather as strategies teachers could use to enhance their content area instruction. Ms. Russell and the literacy team also structured professional development so that all teachers could participate in the literacy initiative, either in the design stage or as a participant.

    After three years, to avoid complacency, the literacy team embarked on a self-analysis of the status of literacy learning at Riverton High School. They used a self-analysis process to re-evaluate and redesign their literacy action plan. Through reflection and analysis, they set new goals for literacy, solicited feedback from department chairs, and shared the plan with colleagues. With the initial guidance of district literacy initiative and support by their principal, this group of educators changed the culture at Riverton High School to one that focused on literacy.

    Understanding Stages of Teaming

    Before Ms. Russell embarked on the literacy initiative, she learned about the various stages of teaming and how those stages affect teaming outcomes. She used Bruce Tuckman's Team Development Model2 as a framework that provides valuable insights about the various stages in the literacy teaming process. These stages shed light on what team members will experience during the teaming process over time. As she began to understand the dynamics of teaming, she was able to provide support when the team was dysfunctional and even combative. In the following pages, we explain the five stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning, and relate the stages to the work of the literacy team.

    The Forming Stage

    The initial stage is the forming stage, which involves the search for team members and the organization of the team. The leadership of the team is usually offered to a teacher or administrator other than the principal. This individual should have a reading background and experience and be viewed by colleagues with respect. Since the forming stage consists of high dependence on the leader, this person should be someone who willingly accepts the task, and who has some input into the selection of team members and materials. The forming stage is in the hands of the team leader who directs the process, brings in materials, helps to establish team roles, and seeks to gather input from team members who at this stage are cooperative, albeit somewhat apprehensive and uncertain about what lies ahead. Team members may be unclear about their roles and will often have lots of questions about the team's purpose, objectives, individual roles and responsibilities. This stage may last for as little as one semester and for as long as an entire school year. We have found that this stage can be effectively traversed when team members participate in a summer literacy institute that focuses on literacy knowledge building and teamwork preparation.

    The Storming Stage

    The storming stage can catch team members and the leader by surprise and create a great deal of anxiety unless they are aware that this is part of the team-development process. It is an unsettling phase during which questions arise, disagreements occur, members may opt out, and leadership is challenged. Some common problems for the literacy team may center on meeting times and dates, materials, inservice topics, and personality differences. Rough as this stage may be, it is necessary to allow members to take on stronger and more decisive roles and the team leader to address the challenges that arise and adjust management style to weather out the storm. Compromise appears to be the key during this phase. It is at this juncture that the leadership role shifts from that of director to that of coach and counselor. It is vital during the storming phase that the team remains focused on their mission as literacy planners.

    The storming stage has the potential to repeat itself whenever a new member is added to the team. Unpleasant as this phase might be, the problem-solving process ensures that the team will emerge as a stronger unit, capable of working collaboratively on literacy plan design.

    The Norming Stage

    The norming stage can be called “the calm after the storm.” Team roles have been clarified and responsibilities are accepted. Team members now assume a share in decision-making. Big decisions are made through consensus while smaller decisions may be delegated to individuals or small teams within the larger group. Discussion at meetings flows freely. The team has fun and even enjoys some degree of socializing. The leader has earned more respect, even as team members have begun to share leadership duties. As team members become confident in their roles, the leader relies on them and enables them to participate more fully in all aspects of the team. Literacy team members grow in esteem as their roles strengthen. The leader serves as facilitator, having evolved from both director and coach. Team commitment and unity are evident. When disagreements occur, they can be resolved by collaboration and attention to structures and process needed to accommodate a resolution of differences.

    The Performing Stage

    The performing phase is the phase during which team members can be relied upon to perform their tasks with or without leadership. Team members fill in for one another in absences and/or emergencies. There is mutual respect for one another's work and ideas. When problems arise or disagreements occur, team members work them out among themselves. The team becomes a high performing unit that takes pride in their successes and develops troubleshooting strategies to deal with negative issues. Trust is built to the level that team members share problems they are having with instruction or communication with departmental members and the team offers suggestions to solve the issues. A high level of camaraderie exists. The team members are concerned for one another as they develop pride in their work. The team expects the leader to bring in new ideas and projects for them to discuss, but they no longer need instruction and assistance. They are now self-motivated enough to seek out information on their own. The leader now delegates and oversees the team. This phase represents a fully functioning team in which members experience a great deal of professional satisfaction that extends to their performance in the classroom. Frequently, their enthusiasm is evidenced by increased involvement in professional organizations and inservice presentations at workshops around the community or even the country.

    The Adjourning Stage

    The adjourning stage entails the termination of roles, the completion of tasks, and the reduction of dependency. This stage occurs naturally when team members decide to leave the team for a variety of reasons. They may retire, relocate, or accept a new position. This stage has been described as mourning, given the loss that is often felt by team members. This stage can produce stress, especially when the team breakup is unplanned.

    In this stage, the culture and climate of the team undergo shifts in relationships and responsibilities that can either enhance or inhibit the teaming process. On the positive side, team members who move on to accept positions of leadership as department chairpersons or part of the administrative team will take their experience with literacy strategies and teamwork and use it in their areas of greater influence. In this case, their literacy team experience was time well spent. On the other hand, those remaining on the team will want to welcome new members and prepare once again to go through Tuckman's “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing” stages until they reach the level of confidence and proficiency of a high performing staff development team. The cycle can be both continuous and rewarding when the Tuckman stages are accommodated.


    1. Although Riverton is a fictitious name, this vignette is based on the real story of a high school in an urban Midwestern city. We thank Dr. Stacey Rutledge at Florida State University for assistance with this case study.

    2. Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384–399.

    Resource E: Matrix of Resources Available in Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy and Meeting the Challenge of Adolescent Literacy

    Taking the Lead on Adolescent Literacy is the third book produced with support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. In Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy, we describe each component of the Taking Action Literacy Leadership Model. In Meeting the Challenge of Adolescent Literacy, we discuss and suggest solutions to 16 critical issues facing educators as they seek to improve adolescent literacy. In the following matrix, we suggest related resources that are available in the two previous books that may be helpful as you work through the five-stage literacy leadership process.

    Resource F: Glossary of Terms

    academic literacyThe reading, writing, presentation, and critical thinking skills that students need to be successful in school
    academic vocabularyWords or phrases that are critical to understanding the concepts of content taught in schools
    action stepComponents of an implementation map that specify the actions that support the attainment of the established literacy action plan goal
    aliteracyThe ability to read and write adequately but typically choosing not to read or write
    alternative assessmentAssessment of literacy skills through alternative methods, such as systematic review of samples of student work or documented observation of students' reading behaviors
    authentic literacy tasksLiteracy tasks that ask students to read and write for reasons that are meaningful to them or are for an audience beyond the teacher
    brand statementA name, logo, or slogan that captures the essence of an activity, product, or initiative
    classroom observationAn observation of instruction for the purpose of mentoring or coaching the teacher to improve instruction
    coachingHelping students or teachers complete a difficult task by showing them how to complete it
    collaborative routineA method of instruction and learning in which students interact with each other to complete literacy assignments using a protocol or sequence of steps
    column notesA note-taking strategy that divides a page into columns for students to record and monitor their thinking; students' write main ideas and concepts in the left column and supporting details and information in the right column
    common agreementsInstructional agreements among grade level, department, or team members that might include the types and amounts of reading and writing students will complete in each content area; grading policies; the use of common instructional approaches and strategies; and the use of common rubrics for assessment
    concept mapsA graphic organizer designed to help visualize the relationship of ideas around a particular concept
    content area teachersTeachers of social studies, math, science, art, music, literature, or other subjects where a body of content is covered
    content area literacy supportThe use of strategies, guided practice, and scaffolding of instruction to improve student literacy development while learning a body of content
    consensus buildingA decision-making process that develops mutually advantageous decisions and approaches that everyone can live with
    criterion-referenced assessmentAssessment designed to measure student performance in reference to established performance or content standards related to reading and writing
    curriculum alignmentWhen a district curriculum is aligned to district and/or state standards and benchmarks, and vertically and horizontally articulated across all levels
    data overviewA report of established data to guide literacy leadership team decision making during the literacy action planning process
    data summary chartA graphic that summarizes the accomplishments and continued literacy improvement needs based on the data
    demonstration classroomsClassrooms in which teachers and administrators can observe and discuss a particular method of teaching or use of a literacy support strategy
    Developmental Reading InventoryA graded series of passages of increasing difficulty to determine students' strengths, weaknesses, and strategies in word identification and comprehension
    diagnostic assessmentAssessment of the literacy skills of students in a variety of areas against a set of criteria in each area to determine the difference between students' demonstration of skills in that area and the expected skills for their grade and/or ability level
    differentiated instructionTeaching students at their own levels of instruction by allowing some students to work on their own and pulling others into a small group for explicit instruction or providing leveled texts for students
    discussion protocolA process through which participants examine an issue in a short article or excerpt from a book and then talk about it together.
    distributed leadershipShared leadership responsibilities based on areas of expertise and knowledge
    English language learner (ELL)Generally, the preferred term in educational literature and school systems for students who are not native speakers of English
    English as a second language (ESL)Usually associated with English language instruction but may be used interchangeably with ELL, as in “ESL student”
    English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)Another term for English language learner, as in “ESOL student”
    exemplarsExamples of quality completion of a task
    feedbackComments, questions, or suggestions that teachers provide students to help them improve their work
    fidelity of implementationWhen programs are implemented as intended
    flexible groupingA process where teachers make grouping decisions by considering the needs of both individuals and the group (Teachers organize students into various grouping patterns: whole class, large groups, small groups, triads, pairs, and/or students working individually.)
    fluencyThe ability to read with appropriate speed, expression, and accuracy
    focus groupA small group of interacting individuals having some common interest or characteristics, brought together by a moderator, who uses the group and its interaction as a way to gain information about a specific or focused issue
    formative assessmentThe assessment of literacy skills as a part of instruction so that the results can inform what additional types of instruction—review, reteaching, additional guided practice, enrichment—may be helpful for individual or groups of students
    graphic organizerA graphic representation of concepts or ideas
    group consensus chartA graphic depicting collective understanding of what team members believe to be the current level of literacy support practices
    grading practicesPolicies and guidelines for assessing the quality of student work
    implementation calendarA list of events throughout the school year to support the school's literacy action plan
    implementation mapA set of action steps designed to support progress toward attaining the goal(s) of the literacy action plan
    implementation monitoring templateA preexisting form used by literacy leadership teams to monitor the details of implementation and record actions necessary to deepen or sustain the literacy initiative
    individual education plans (IEP)A written document that describes the educational program for a student placed in special education
    informal reading inventoriesAn individually administered assessment designed to help a teacher determine a student's reading instructional needs
    intervention coursesCourses or experiences that offer intensive literacy support for students performing below grade level in reading or writing
    leveled textsTexts that are categorized by different levels of reading difficulty
    lexile score or frameworkA text-leveling approach based on semantic difficulty and syntactic complexity and set on a scale that ranges from 200L for beginning readers to above 1700L for advanced texts
    limited English proficient (LEP)A term used to describe students who have not yet become proficient English speakers, readers, and writers
    list-group-labelA learning strategy that combines brainstorming and categorization to help students organize concepts
    literacyThe symbolic communication modes of reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing one's thinking
    literacy achievement gapA condition in schools where some groups of students are significantly underperforming compared to other groups of students (e.g., impoverished students, students from specific ethnic groups, boys or girls, non-native English speakers)
    literacy action planA schoolwide or districtwide plan to improve literacy that includes data-driven goals, action steps, timelines, responsible persons, indicators of effectiveness, and resources needed
    literacy coachAn educator who works primarily with other teachers to improve content literacy and learning
    literacy interventionsSupplementary programs or courses that address identified or anticipated problems in literacy
    literacy kickoffA presentation or event that raises awareness and builds collective faculty and student buy-in to the literacy initiative
    literacy leaderAny educator who assumes a leadership role in a literacy improvement effort such as a literacy coach, state, district, or school administrator, reading specialist, department chair, team leader, or literacy team member
    literacy support strategyAn instructional strategy that supports weaker readers, writers, and speakers as they develop the skills and strategies that competent communicators use
    literacy team or literacy leadership teamA team that is representative of the school community and works on schoolwide literacy improvement efforts
    literacy walk-throughA walk through individual classrooms in a school to collect real-time data to determine the literacy instructional practices being used
    literature circlesSmall, temporary groups in which students read different books; meet on a regular, predictable schedule; and use written notes to guide their reading and discussion
    modelingDemonstration of how to complete literacy tasks for students or demonstrating a literacy-support strategy for a colleague
    peer coaching and/or mentoringA process during which two teachers attend each other's classes, later discuss what they saw, and help each other solve problems
    percentile rankA score that indicates where a student stands in comparison to others who take the test
    performance-based assessmentAn assessment based on a specific performance of a student
    poetry slam or jamA competition at which poets read or recite original work (or, more rarely, that of others); these performances are then judged on a numeric scale by previously selected members of an audience
    professional development planA process for professional improvement that involves self-assessment, outside feedback, and action steps
    professional learning communityA supportive group of educators committed to continuous learning
    protocolsStructures for examining educational practice or content learning in a democratic and orderly manner that allow teachers and students to voice their opinions, ideas, and concerns with one another, typically in pairs or small groups
    question-answer relationship (QAR)A learning strategy that helps students understand that the answers they seek are related to the type of question that is asked
    quick writesA three- to five-minute writing strategy that gives students the opportunity to reflect on their learning of a specific topic or issue
    reading specialistTeachers who are certified in reading or literacy and who teach intervention classes or oversee other teachers' work with struggling readers or writers
    role, audience, format, topic (RAFT)A process where students use what they learned from reading to create a product that shows their depth of understanding
    reciprocal teachingA learning routine that involves students in predicting, asking questions, clarifying confusing points, and summarizing
    rubricA scoring tool used to assess levels of performance or implementation based on a range of criteria rather than a single numerical score
    scaffolding instructionBuilding a support structure for students so that they can tackle increasingly complex tasks
    school strengths concept mapA graphic that depicts the strengths of the school
    strategic intervention classA class for students who scored below an acceptable level on standardized reading tests
    student performance dataData that provide information about student academic achievement
    summary framesA series of statements with details omitted that emphasize the important elements within a text pattern; students complete the statement thereby producing a summary
    summative assessmentAssessment of the literacy skills of students at a particular point in time, at the end of a unit of study or annually at the same time of year, to determine what reading and writing skills they demonstrate relative to their peers and their own past achievement
    sustained silent reading (SSR)A time set aside during the school day for students to read independently and apply the reading strategies they have learned
    team facilitatorThe individual who manages team meetings; this responsibility is often rotated among team members
    team leaderThe individual responsible for organizing team meetings, communicating with leadership, and troubleshooting problems encountered by the team
    team normsAgreements about how documentation, communication, logistics, and responsibilities will be handled by the literacy leadership team
    team teachingA collaboration of two or more teachers that promotes the healthy exchange of ideas in an instructional setting defined by mutual respect
    think aloudsA teaching strategy in which the teacher shares his or her thinking processes out loud so that students can observe the thinking processes of a strong reader or writer
    WebquestAn inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the Internet
    writing to learn activitiesShort, impromptu or otherwise informal writing tasks that help students think through key concepts or ideas presented in a course;


    Biancarosa, G. & Snow, C. E. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy. Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education.
    Brenner, D., Pearson, P. D., & Rief, L. (2007). Thinking through assessment. In K.Beers, R. E.Probst & L.Rief, Adolescent literacy: Turning promise into practice (p. 262). Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.
    Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy. (2010). Time to act: An agenda for advancing adolescent literacy for college and career success. New York, NY: Carnegie Corporation of New York. Pg: viii.
    Fogarty, R., & Pete, B. (2007). From staff room to classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
    Irvin, J. L., Meltzer, J., & Dukes, M. S. (2007). Taking action on adolescent literacy: An implementation guide for school leaders. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    Irvin, J. L., Meltzer, J., Mickler, M. J., Phillips, M. P., & Dean, N. (2009). Meeting the challenge of adolescent literacy: Practical ideas for literacy leaders. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
    National Governor's Association Center for Best Practices. (2009). Supporting adolescent literacy achievement. Washington, DC: Author.
    Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384–399. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0022100
    Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2008). State superintendent's adolescent literacy plan. Madison, WI: Author.

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    International Reading Association

    The mission of the International Reading Association is to promote reading by continuously advancing the quality of literacy instruction and research worldwide.

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